Wise has strong words for building authority chief

June 25, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise had some strong words Tuesday for the head of the West Virginia School Building Authority, who said last month he believed Wise's efforts to lobby the state agency for money to build a second high school in Jefferson County would have little impact on the decision.

If that kind of talk continues, there may not be a budget for School Building Authority Director Clacy Williams or anything else the School Building Authority wants, Wise said during a stop Tuesday morning at the Huntfield development.

"I think the governor of the state should be listened to. If I were Clacy (Williams), I think I would want to be talking to the governor and not attacking him," Wise said.


Wise made the comments before he spoke to local government officials and business leaders about the Legislature's need to act quickly to get the state Economic Development Grant Committee back on track.

The newly formed committee was set up to distribute $215 million in economic development grants, but the process was derailed when the state Supreme Court ruled that the panel was unconstitutionally appointed.

With the decision, $1 million awarded to Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport for a new terminal and $6 million awarded to Jefferson County for construction of a second high school was thrown into limbo.

The Legislature has been meeting to address the problems identified by the Supreme Court.

A second high school in Jefferson County is expected to cost about $30 million.

The Jefferson County Board of Education requested $15 million from the School Building Authority to help pay for the project, but the SBA turned down the request.

Williams said part of the reason the SBA did not award the $15 million was because of the $6 million tied up through the Economic Development Grant Committee.

Williams, however, has said he believes the new high school remains a strongly ranked project for funding because of the need for new school facilities in Jefferson County.

In May, Wise threw his support behind the school project. The governor sent a letter to Williams saying he was concerned that state government might have broken its promise to help Jefferson County's school system meet its needs.

SBA officials said they were surprised by Wise's letter.

Wise said Tuesday he decided to support the high school project because of the need for new school facilities here.

"It's just time. This is one of the fastest growing counties," Wise said.

At the time Wise sent the letter, Williams said he believed Wise's efforts would have little impact on the decision process.

Williams said he thought the project could stand on its own merit and said the impact of Wise's lobbying for SBA money would be "nil."

Williams said Tuesday he believed his comments were misinterpreted. He said he never meant to minimize the influence of the governor's office, although he still believes funding for the high school hinges on its strengths.

The Legislature met in a special session June 10 to address the issues relating to the Economic Development Grant Committee.

The House of Delegates and the Senate both passed bills dealing with the Economic Development Grant Committee and lawmakers are expected to reconvene Monday to take up the matter.

Wise and Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, one of several local lawmakers at the Huntfield event, said they favored the Senate bill.

Wise said amendments have been added to the House bill and he is concerned they will stretch out the funding process.

It is important to get the Economic Grant Committee operating as quickly as possible because six projects in the Eastern Panhandle are waiting for funds through the committee that represent a total of $39.4 million in direct investment, Wise said.

If the Legislature passes an Economic Development Grant Committee bill next week, the state could go to the bond market in 40 to 50 days and there would still be time to get the projects started this construction season, Wise said.

"The time to make this happen is now," Wise told those gathered.

Huntfield was picked for Wise's appearance because the developer of the 3,800-home development has donated 57 acres at the site for a second high school.

Wise pointed to an area behind him where the proposed high school would be. Next to the governor was a sketch of the facility.

"This is one of the most significant projects funded by this," Wise said of the Economic Development Grant Committee.

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